Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Class: Broadway Danny Rose

- a four course NY Deli meal -
Homemade Corned Beef (on Rye) w/Cole Slaw & Mustard
Aunt Syd’s Kosher Garlic-Dill Pickles
Potato Latkes with Sour Cream & Apple Sauce
New York Cheesecake

Just came back from teaching class and it was, once again, a ton o' fun. Thanks to all those who came out for the 2nd Chef du Cinema class.

No accidents, no one died, all is well.

I sure do love this movie. I used to think Stardust Memories was my favorite (even though so many people think it's a minor work), but in, what I consider to be his 2nd period (or the Mia Farrow years), this work synthesizes all that he was trying to learn/copy from the European filmmakers he was obsessed about on his quest to be taken as a serious filmmaker. But especially Fellini and probably Renoir too. It might well be his most Chaplin-esque. This just feels like he not trying to impress, he's just relaxed and making a wonderful, funny, sad, mature movie. That's what I say.

If you're a Comcast subscriber to Cinemax, you can stream Broadway Danny Rose on Fancast thru the end of the year, or your can rent it from NetFlix. It does show up on television now and again, so check your local schedule.


“Just let me say one thing.... my Uncle Sidney (lovely uncle... dead... completely) used to say three things: acceptance, forgiveness and love. That is a philosophy of life.”

The idea for doing Broadway Danny Rose came from one simple statement made by Mia Farrow to her then husband Woody Allen over dinner at Rao’s, a popular New York restaurant they would frequent.

Farrow, Allen recalled, “wanted to play Mrs. Rao, Annie Rao, who we knew and would see up at the restaurant all the time. And I wanted to play a different kind of character, not a neurotic, literate New Yorker. And one of the characters I can play... is a lowlife. It just [laughs] comes kind of naturally.” He described Mrs. Rao as “one of those wig-wearing Latin women, talking a blue streak, loud and insulting with dark glasses planted on her face.” (you can see her picture - and how much she does look like the character of Tina - here.)

Allen said Farrow told him “it would be funny for her to play a role like this, at the opposite pole from the skinny ingenues she’s all too often made to play.”

Maybe it’s my physical look that confused people. I was very thin. I know people think of me that way,said Farrow. “That’s why I kept my sunglasses on in Broadway Danny Rose, because I know my eyes are a giveaway; they’re not tough. But I’m sure I am underneath.” In another interview, she noted, “I found the only way I could get away with it was if I put on sunglasses, because I've got these eyes that just give me away: a touch of Bambi or something. Even with a massive amount of eye make-up, I couldn't get them tough enough.”

Woody added, “That was a very, very brave thing for her to do [wearing sunglasses throughout the film], because she had to act the whole picture without ever using her eyes, and that’s really hard to do.”

There are several interesting personal references in Broadway Danny Rose to Allen's life. At one point in the movie, Danny is trying to book some of his acts at a place called “Weinstein’s Majestic Bungalow Colony.” This is not a fictional resort, but in fact, was the first place Allen performed live on stage, as a magician, located in the Catskills Mountains just about a two hour drive from New York City. The area was mostly known known as the Borscht Belt for its string of hotels, resorts, and vacation spots that catered to the Jewish middle class. Since antisemitism at the time precluded Jews from vacationing in regular resorts and country clubs, they built their own.

The story goes that a friend from Midwood High School in Brooklyn who went each summer to Weinstein’s with his family, convinced management to let the teenage Allen perform. Although Weinstein’s was beyond their budget, Allen’s mother agreed.

Weinstein’s was a general Jewish resort,” Allen remembered. “There was a lake and sports and social events and movies. It was not an upscale resort, but much more upper-class than where I stayed -- The Lakeview was a D level, an E level.... It really was a rathole of a place.”

Another tidbit from Allen’s past that finds its way into the film is that he had seen comedian Morty Gunty who plays one of the comics at the Carnegie Deli (and dated my Aunt Sissy at one time), when Allen was a freshman at a school variety show. Allen thoughtit was the greatest thing I had ever seen. I just wanted to be a comedian in the worst way.” Gunty had recently himself graduated from Midwood and was the MC of the show. "I wanted to be on the next variety show and I bought every joke book I could and started to make routines, culling jokes. It never occurred to me to write them at the young age. I did everything I possibly could. As it turned out, there was never another variety show in all my years at Midwood. If there had been, I would have been just frozen with fear and I doubt I could have done anything. But all I thought about afterwards was: When will there be another variety show? Can I get on it? Mercifully, there wasn’t another.

The picture received 2 Oscar nominations, for directing and screenwriting. Mia Farrow received a Golden Globe nod. The film did very poorly upon first release, but has since become considered to be one of Allen’s best films.

One of the best writings about Broadway Danny Rose I came across is from Peter J. Bailey in his book, The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen. “For Baron and his fellow comics, Danny is the epitome of a lost world in which performers like themselves - and even those still more inferior and small time - were cared for, valued in a way these comedians’ opening exchange proves that they no longer are.... [I]t it is Danny Rose’s eccentric loyalty to and celebration of show business rejects.... which constitutes the heroism the comedians implicitly reward him for and culminates in the Broadway apotheosis of his becoming a Carnegie Deli sandwich. It is his deviation from unhuman values of American show business which makes a hero out of Danny Rose.

And mention has to be made of Nick Apollo Forte. Forte was not an actor. He was the real thing. A nightclub and cocktail bar singer/pianist. He composed both “Agita” and "Bambino" which he sings in the movie. He, like his character, Lou Canova, still had dreams of playing the Desert Inn in Vegas, not the Holiday Inn in Passaic. He had cut an album called “Can I Depend on You?

I looked at a million singers, famous ones and not so famous ones,” said Allen, “without finding the right person for the part. We were getting desperate. Then Juliet Taylor went to a record store and bought as many records as she could. And she saw this picture of Nick Apollo Forte on one of the records.”

So we started tracking him down and found him singing in Waterbury, [Connecticut],” casting director Taylor recalled. “It’s as though he had been waiting for this big break.

[H]e came to NY, and I tested him,” Allen said. "[H]e was the best one... He was easy to work within one sense. He was friendly and nice. But there were certain times when I had to do fifty takes with him. Because he just couldn’t get it. But he was basically very nice."

Audiences were taken by Forte and for a brief moment it seemed like he was going to be the star he’d dreamed to be, but perhaps because the film didn’t do great box office, or maybe the novelty of his story got old too quickly, the offers never came. Forte still performs his lounge act today.

What happened to Nick Apollo Forte,” Forte said, “is that he never did another movie.... How come Nick Apollo Forte never gets another movie job?


Let’s start here: There are some who fear that in less than a generation from now there won't be any Jewish-style delicatessens left in New York City.

This seems impossible, you might think, but consider this – according to “Save the Deli” author David Sax, a 1931 New York City Department of Public Markets report listed just over 1500 kosher delicatessens in the five boroughs. Ted Merwin, professor of Jewish Studies at Dickinson College, noted that in 1960 there were only 150. In 2009, Sax wrote, “[T]here are but a few dozen Jewish delis scattered around New York City; perhaps a dozen or so in all of Manhattan, two in the Bronx, two in Queen, and five or six in Brooklyn.

Where did they all go? How did this happen? Let’s go back to the beginning....

Between 1880 and 1920, over 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe emigrated to New York City. Up until that time, the largest immigrant group in New York were Germans, over 6 million came to America shortly after the Civil War. A significant portion of them were Jewish. Delicatessens – the name loosely translates from German to mean “delicious things to eat." As most immigrant groups do, these German (both Jewish and non-Jewish) immigrants opened small stores where one could purchase foods from their homeland not available in “regular” grocery stores in the mid-1800's. These Germans contributed a wealth of items to what we now consider American foods, including various sausages (like frankfurters), sauerkraut, hamburgers, pretzels, potato salad, Kaiser rolls, and more.

The poor Eastern European Jews, fleeing the Russian Czarist empire, started businesses, selling foods and wares to each other with push carts around the Lower East Side. Eventually some opened stores and delis – The American Dream in action. But “the turning point,” according to David Sax, “which catapulted [deli fare] from an obscure immigrant food to an American cuisine, was the marriage of this cookery with the simultaneously emerging American obsession with the sandwich.... The delicatessen, previously a takeout counter of prepared foods, had been transformed into a sit-down restaurant.

"A Jewish deli should specialize in, first and foremost, Yiddish foods — the foods of the Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews. So if it's a place that specializes in pizza or chicken wings or diner food, and then does a corned beef sandwich on the side, it's not a Jewish delicatessen," Sax said. "There are many places that serve corned beef and pastrami sandwiches — from Subway to the supermarket — and they don't factor into this at all."

"It is important to make the distinction between a kosher and non-kosher delicatessen," explained Sheryll Berman in her book “America’s Great Delis.” "Strictly kosher delis abide by the rules of kashrut - they are either entirely a meat or a dairy establishment and they often have signage indicating their stamp of kosher approval. Non-kosher delis serve Jewish food but will serve dairy with meat and may serve non-kosher items."

The Jewish deli became “[a] place for Jews to rest and refuel after shopping, meet potential mates, relax in a Jewish milieu, reconnect to childhood memories,said Ted Merwin. Sheryll Berman wrote that the delicatessen wasn’t just a place to eat, “its heritage is of a gathering place where displaced people could find community.” And to tell jokes to each other. But in the decades following World War II, many urban Jews (like other ethnic groups) left the city and moved to the suburbs. Many (really most) of them were fine with leaving behind the lingering Old World traditions and memories of the poverty of their forefathers in the Lower East Side. And that included delicatessen food – which was a reminder of their peasant roots in the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

And so today, Katz’s Deli, one of the last of the New York Delis, estimates that over half the sandwiches sold during the week are to tourists. On the weekends, he noted, the number climbs to 75 percent.

Even in cities where great delis have long thrived, one by one, delis are starting to close their doors," wrote Sheryll Bellman.

Delis are struggling today for several reasons,” began Lucy Baker in her article about the future of the Jewish deli. “First and most important,” she said, “the landscape of Manhattan is changing, and real estate prices are skyrocketing. Second, people are more concerned with their health, and a diet rich in deli and dairy is viewed as a threat to waistlines and arteries. Third, Jewish food isn’t in vogue. It’s not stylish or trendy in New York the way, say, barbecue is right now, so the appeal doesn’t exist for younger generations.

So will the New York Jewish deli survive in the 21st Century? Let's hope so, because in the words of legendary comedian, and who appears in Broadway Danny Rose, Milton Berle: "Anytime someone orders a pastrami sandwich on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies."


The process of pickling is one of the oldest in history and dates back to at least 2300 BC in Mesopotamia, though cucumbers were brought to the Mid-East around 2030 BC from India where they are native.

Aristotle praised the healing effects of pickled cucumbers and Julius Caesar fed them to his troops believing they help both "spiritually & physically." Cleopatra ate them to sustain her beauty.

And they all weren't far off from the truth. In the first place, in those days before refrigeration, food spoiled quite quickly and pickling (whether it be vegetables, fruit or meat) helped them last much longer and made them portable. And according to this site: "Raw, lacto-fermented vegetables (pickles) have good bacteria that inhibit the growth of harmful microbes in the intestines. They have a higher concentration of vitamin C.... [and] help you absorb iron better."

The Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American eats 8.5 lbs of pickles a year. But American history is also very pickled. George Washington loved pickles, as did Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wrote: "On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle...."

Christopher Columbus probably wouldn't have succeeded on his journey to the Americas without pickled foods and later grew cucumbers for pickling on his farm in Haiti. But even more to the point, America, named after explorer Amerigo Vespucci, was in the pickle business before he began exploring.

And the connection between Jews and pickles dates all the way back to the Old Testament. Cucumbers are mentioned at least twice, in Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8. "Pickled cucumbers achieved great popularity in many parts of Europe and the Middle East, but arguably nowhere more than among Eastern European Jews, who ate them with black bread and later potatoes as the bulk of their diet," according to Rabbi Gil Marks, author of Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World. These Eastern European Jews brought their recipes with them to the New World and began selling them from pushcarts on the streets of New York's Lower East Side.

According to San Francisco's Exploratorium Museum's "The Accidental Scientist:" "There are two basic categories of pickles. The first type includes pickles preserved in vinegar, a strong acid in which few bacteria can survive. Most of the bottled kosher cucumber pickles available in the supermarket are preserved in vinegar. The other category includes pickles soaked in a salt brine to encourages fermentation—the growth of "good" bacteria that make a food less vulnerable to "bad" spoilage-causing bacteria. Common examples of fermented pickles include kimchi and many cucumber dill pickles."

My Aunt Syd had that wonderful raspy voice that only an old New York Jewish woman who smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day (and Harvey Fierstein) could have.

This is not her recipe, but let's call it "dedicated to" her memory.

I found a lot of pickle recipes online, but almost all were for several jars worth. So, I decided to make a recipe that would work for one jar. It took several attempts, but I'm very pleased with this one. As always - cook, watch, eat, and enjoy....

Aunt Syd's Kosher Garlic-Dill Pickles
Click for Printer-Friendly Version

Makes 1 jar of pickles

5 to 8 pickling cucumbers (depending on size)
3 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher or pickling salt
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1 bay leaf (if pickling spice includes, take out and use fresh)
2 - 3 sprigs fresh dill
3 medium garlic cloves -- or more smaller ones or less larger
4-6 baby carrots (optional)

(Picking pickles: You want to find firm, slightly curve, dark green, not bloated pickles.) Wash exterior of pickles well, then sit in ice bath for at least 1 hour (up to 3).

Meanwhile, sterilize 1-quart (large mouth, if available) mason jar - either run thru dishwasher at high temp or sterilize mode, or put in tall pot and boil for 5 minutes. JUST JAR, not LID (lid we'll sterilize separately).

When ready, boil 3 cups for water for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast pickling spice in frying pan. When you just start to smell the spices, remove from heat and shake pan a bit. Let cool.

In a separate small pot, boil lid and ring for 5 minutes. Boil a couple of extra lids & rings in case you drop them.

Remove cucumbers from water and then cut off a little from both ends (the ends have microbes - the blossom end, actually, but don't bother to figure out which is which - which will cause pickles to get soggy).

Drop garlic in jar and then pack with cucumbers (don't slice them - my results are that they get soggy, cut them when you serve them). Add carrots, if using. Add salt, then pickling spice, bay leaf and dill.

Using a funnel - pour hot water into jar. Leave about 1/2 inch clear at the top, but make sure all cucumbers are immersed.

With magnet or tongs, remove sterile ring & lid from water and seal jar tightly. Using a towel, wipe off all the jars. Shake a couple of times to distribute spices.

Now, let stand in cool, dark place for 3 days to allow fermentation. Gently turn upside down and back once a day. After 3 days, put in refrigerator to slow fermentation. Pickles will keep in refrigerator for about 3-4 weeks.

TCM Broadway Danny Rose Page
NY Times Critic AO Scott on Broadway Danny Rose
NY Locations used in Broadway Danny Rose
David Sax Interview on NPR w/Glossary of Jewish Deli Food
Sheryll Berman Article on Delis
List of Great Jewish Delis in the US & Canada
"The Pickle Wing" @ the NY Food Museum
Pastrami Land, The Jewish Deli in New York, by Harry G. Levine
NY Times article: Jewish Delis are Dwindling

Broadway Danny Rose DVD
Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking, by Eric Lax
Woody Allen: A Biography, by Eric Lax
Woody Allen: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series), by Robert E. Kapsis, Kathie Coblentz
Woody Allen: Entretiens avec Stig Björkman, by Woody Allen & Stig Björkman
The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen, by Peter J. Bailey
The Unruly Life of Woody Allen: A Biography, by Marion Meade
Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, by David Sax
America's Great Delis: Recipes and Traditions from Coast to Coast, by Sheryll Bellman
The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich

1 comment:

  1. Ron - Can I just interject a statement, just a comment here, please, darling? It's been three days and I'm still fantasizing about that corned beef. Pickled meat and pickled cucumbers. Heaven.

    I'm coming back for Charade!